The second phase of the championship gets under way this weekend with the top six teams gunning for the championship and the lucrative European places. The teams that finished in places 7 to 12 have only one goal and that is avoid finishing in the bottom two places, a position that will lead them to the second division.
With 30 points still to be won in this phase a lot of things can change in both groups.
However the teams that finished in the top three positions, Apoel, Apollon and AEL have an almost unassailable advantage over their rivals for the championship as they go into the playoffs with a ten, eight and six point cushion respectively over fourth placed AEK.
AEK are eight points ahead of Omonia and Nea Salamina, the two remaining teams in the championship group.
In the relegation scrap, bottom placed Ermis Aradippou seem set for a return to the second division as they trail their nearest rivals, Alki and Enosis by seven points. Pafos FC are not out of the woods yet as they are just one point above the two, while Anorthosis, the top team in the relegation group, should have few problems in maintaining their first division status, even though this is no consolation for a team that had set high targets for this season.
Apoel kick off their defence of the championship with a trip to the Ammochostos stadium to face Nea Salamina who have gone off the boil in the past few weeks and only managed to hang onto sixth place thanks to Anorthosis’ nine point deduction due to the Uzoho incident.
However, having secured the top six finish, and realistically unable to finish in a European slot, Nea Salamina will play with no pressure and their sole objective will be to play attacking and entertaining football to please their fans.
Their coach Savvas Poursaitides will be unable to call upon Tiago, Christophorou and Correia, but their defensive stalwart Roman Golobart should be fit enough to start the game.
Despite clawing back to the top of the table following their defeat of Apollon, Apoel need to improve especially in the final third of the field.
A lot will depend on whether the two players that were so instrumental to their revival in the latter part of 2018, Natel and Al Taamari, regain their sparkle and incisiveness.
The Apoel coach, Paolo Tramezzani will be without the suspended Souza and the injured Boy Waterman while Emilio Nsue’s contract was terminated due to disciplinary reasons and will not play again for the champions.
Second placed Apollon entertain Omonia in Limassol and will be favourites to start off the playoffs with a win despite missing 5 players due to suspensions or injuries.
Omonia have shown considerable improvement in their last few games and will be no pushovers. Yiannis Anastasiou, the Omonia coach, is finally seeing his side play as a team, each player working hard for each other.
However recent results are not in their favour having defeated Apollon just twice in twenty league and cup games.
It is perhaps AEK’s most crucial game in the playoffs against AEL, as a win for the Larnaca side will allow them to move to within three points of their opponents, giving them a realistic chance of third place.
They suffered a blow on Friday when it was announced that their experienced midfielder Acoran,will be out for a lengthy period of time through injury.
Ermis Aradippou will begin their survival battle against the strongest team in the group, Anorthosis, but it remains to be seen if the Famagusta team will field their expensively assembled foreign players or give Cypriot youngsters a chance to make the starting eleven.
Pafos FC will need to put their disappointing cup exit last Wednesday behind them and start picking up points to steer well clear of the relegation zone, beginning on Sunday against Alki.
A high scoring game is expected in Paphos as both sides like to play open and attacking football, making them vulnerable at the back.
Saturday: AEK v AEL (5.00), Apollon v Omonia (6.00), Salamina v Apoel (6.30)
Sunday:Pafos FC v Alki (4.00), Ermis v Anorthosis (4.00)
Enosis v Doxa Katokopias will be played on Monday at 19.00